and History of Neolithic Art in China
Early Neolithic (c.7500-5000)
Ceramic art was the defining creative activity
of Neolithic society in China. The earliest pots to appear were almost
exclusively utilitarian earthenware, hand-made (by coiling), mainly red
in colour and fired in bonfires. Decorative designs were applied by stamping,
impressing and other simple techniques. The painted bands seen on this
pottery may represent prototype examples of the Painted Pottery culture,
which flourished during the period 4,000-2,000 BCE. To see how Chinese
Neolithic pots fit into the evolution of ceramics, see: Pottery
Timeline (26,000 BCE - 1900). Silk-making, the characteristic Chinese
textile process, also began during the 6th millennium. Early Neolithic
Chinese artists are also known for their famous Jiahu Carvings
- turquoise carvings and bone flutes - discovered in the Yellow River
Basin of Henan Province, Central China, around 7000-5700 BCE.
Middle Neolithic (c.5000-4000 BCE)
Chinese Middle Neolithic art is represented by deep-bodied jugs, red or
red-brown ware, notably pointed-bottomed amphorae. In the East
of the country, pottery was characterized by fine clay or sand-tempered
pots ornamented with comb markings, incised markings, and narrow, appliqued
bands. In the region of the lower Yangtze River, porous, charcoal-tempered
black pottery was produced, featuring cauldrons, as well as cups and bowls.
In addition, carvings and other forms of sculpture
began to appear - including a number of remarkable bird designs carved
on bone and ivory - as well as the earliest examples of Chinese
lacquerware. See also: Mesopotamian
Art (4500-539 BCE).
Late Neolithic (c.4000-2000 BCE)
Chinese Late Neolithic pottery includes a range of delicate, coloured
and polished, ceremonial vessels, exemplifying the Painted Pottery culture
of the age. These featured burnished bowls and basins of fine red pottery,
a proportion of which were painted, usually in black, with spirals, dots
and flowing lines. In the northeast the Hongshan culture was characterized
by small bowls, fine painted pottery, as well as jade amulets in the shape
of birds, turtles, and dragons. The middle and lower Yangtze River valley
cultures were known for their ring-footed vessels, ceramic whorls, eggshell-thin
goblets and bowls decorated with black or orange designs; double-waisted
bowls. For a comparison, see also: Ancient
Persian Art (from 3500 BCE).
By 3000 BCE, Chinese ceramicists had attained
a craftsmanship and elegance which was quite exceptional. Designs included
gourd-shaped panels, sawtooth lines, radial spirals, and zoomorphic figures.
The predominant Longshan Culture (3000-2000 BCE) was characterized by
its lustrous, eggshell-thin black pottery, and its proficiency in componential
construction - in which spouts, legs, and handles were added to the basic
In addition to fine pottery, the Late Neolithic
in China witnessed the development of jade carving, lacquering and other
jewellery crafts, confirmed by the increasing number of precious artifacts
discovered in the graves of wealthy individuals. It was also during the
third millennium that bronze metallurgy evolved. The earliest known bronze
objects in China were found in the Majiayao culture site, dating to between
3100 and 2700 BCE.
For the history and development of Stone
Age cultures in East Asia, see: Chinese
Art Timeline (c.18,000 BCE - present). For the earliest
painting/sculpture, see: Oldest
Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.
in China (7500-2000 BCE)
Pengtoushan Culture (7500-6100)
Based around the central Yangtze River region in northwestern Hunan, among
artifacts found in Pengtoushan graves was cord-marked pottery. Compare
Pengtoushan pottery with Jomon
pottery, the earliest form of Japanese
Art, which was typically supported in baskets which were destroyed
by the firing process and whose weaving left its trace on the belly.
Peiligang Culture (7000-5000)
Centered on the Yi-Luo river basin valley in Henan. Typical Peiligang
artifacts include a diverse assortment of ceramic items, mainly for functional
purposes such as storage and cooking.
Houli Culture (6500-5500)
Centered on Shandong.
Xinglongwa Culture (6200-5400)
Located along the Inner Mongolia-Liaoning border. Xinglongwa culture is
noted for its cylindrical pottery, as well as a limited amount of jade
Cishan Culture (6000-5500)
Based around the Yellow River in southern Hebei, noted for its tripod
Dadiwan Culture (5800-5400)
Located in Gansu and western Shaanxi, it shared several features in common
with the Cishan and Peiligang cultures.
Xinle Culture (5500-4800)
Centered on the lower Liao River on the Liaodong Peninsula. Archeological
digs have produced numerous Xinle artifacts including pottery, jade objects,
and some of the oldest wood carvings in the world.
Zhaobaogou Culture (5400-4500)
Centered on the Luan River valley in Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei,
it is noted for its pottery vessels decorated with geometric and zoomorphic
designs, and its stone and terracotta
Beixin Culture (5300-4100)
This was centered on Shandong.
Hemudu Culture (5000-4500)
Based around Yuyao and Zhoushan, Zhejiang, as well as the islands of Zhoushan.
It is known for its chunky, black-coloured, porous pottery, often embellished
with plant and geometric designs. Hemudu artists also produced carved
jade objects, carved ivory ornaments and small, clay sculptures.
Daxi Culture (5000-3000)
Centered around the Three Gorges region of the middle Yangtze River, the
culture is noted for its dou (cylindrical bottles), white pan (plates),
red pottery, and jade ornaments.
Majiabang Culture (5000-3000)
Located in the Taihu Lake area and north of Hangzhou Bay, it spread across
southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang. It is known for its jade ornaments
Yangshao Culture (5000-3000)
One of the most important of the so-called Painted Pottery cultures of
the Chinese Neolithic era, it flourished in Henan, Shaanxi, and Shanxi.
Discovered by the Swedish archeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and named
after its type site, Yangshao, in Henan, it evolved in several stages,
classified according to pottery styles, as follows: (1) Banpo stage (4800-4200).
(2) Miaodigou stage (4000-3000). (3) Majiayao stage (3300-2000). (4) Banshan
stage (2700-2300). (5) Machang stage (2400-2000). Chinese
painters of the Yangshao culture were noted for their excellent white,
red, and black painted pottery decorated with human, animal, and geometric
designs. Certain incised markings on Yangshao pottery have been speculatively
interpreted as an early form of Chinese writing. The Yangshao culture
is also noted for its early production of silk.
Hongshan Culture (4700-2900)
Discovered by the Japanese archeologist Torii Ryuzo in 1908 and excavated
in the 1930s by Kosaku Hamada and Mizuno Seiichi, this culture evolved
in Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and Hebei in northeastern China. Hongshan
artists are known for their jade carvings (especially their pig dragons),
copper rings and clay figurines, including statuettes of pregnant women.
At Niuheliang, archeologists uncovered an underground religious complex
containing a quantity of painted ceramic vessels and decorated with mural
paintings - see also: Chinese Painting.
Tombs excavated nearby were found to contain jade objects, as well as
sculptures of dragons and tortoises. The Hongshan people attributed particular
importance to jade. Several types of jade were used in carving - including
light-green, cream or even blackish-green - and popular shapes included
a creature with the head of a pig (or bear) and the curled body of a dragon.
Examples can be seen in the Liaoning Provincial Institute of Archeology,
Dawenkou Culture (4100-2600)
Centered on Shandong, Anhui, Henan, and Jiangsu, and best known for its
turquoise, jade and ivory carvings, as well as its long-stemmed ceramic
cups, it is divided into three main stages, according to objects discovered
in graves: (1) Early phase: c.4100-3500. (2) Middle phase: c.3500-3000.
(3) Late phase: c.3000-2600.
Liangzhu Culture (3400-2250)
This was the last Neolithic jade culture of the Yangtze River Delta, and
is famous for its tomb artifacts, featuring finely worked jade objects
- made from tremolite, actinolite and serpentine jades - including pendants
engraved with decorative designs of birds, turtles and fish. Liangzhu
artists were also noted for their silk, ivory and lacquer objects, as
well as their fine pottery. Liangzhu art is exemplified by its mysterious
jade congs - cylindrical tubes encased in rectangular blocks -
which were associated with Neolithic shamanism, and which anticipated
the taotie design of Shang and Zhou Dynasty bronzes. Examples can
be seen in the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Archeology, Hangzhou.
Compare Liangzhu culture with Egyptian
Art (3100 onwards).
Majiayao Culture (3100-2700)
Located in the upper Yellow River region in Gansu and Qinghai, it is noted
for its pioneering copper and bronze objects, as well as its painted pottery.
Qujialing Culture (3100-2700)
Centered around the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei and Hunan, it
is famous for its signature ceramic balls, painted spindle whorls, and
egg shell pottery.
Longshan Culture (3000-2000)
Based in the central and lower Yellow River region, and named after the
town of Longshan, home of the original Chengziya archeological site, Longshan
artists were noted for their ceramic work - especially their highly polished,
black-coloured, thin-walled egg-shell pottery. Working with refined clay,
a fast potter's wheel and a very hot kiln, Longshan ceramicists produced
some exceptional items, including tall, thin, ceremonial "stem cups",
with sides typically no more than 0.5 millimetres thick. These fine objects
inspired the slender, wide-mouthed wine goblets, known as gu, made
during the later era of Shang Dynasty art
(c.1600-1000 BCE). Longshan Culture is also known for its sericulture
Baodun Culture (2800-2000)
Centered on the Chengdu Plain, it is known for its pottery as well as
its early pebble-dash architecture.
Shijiahe Culture (2500-2000)
Based around the middle Yangtze River region in Hubei, it is noted for
its painted spindle whorls, inherited from the preceding Qujialing culture,
its pottery figurines and distinctive jade carvings.
Art in China
Although Chinese Bronze
Age art originated in the upper Yellow River region around the end
of the 4th millennium BCE (c.3100), Bronze metallurgy is more closely
associated with Erlitou Cultural developments (2100-1500) under the Xia
Dynasty (c.2100-1700 BCE) and the early Shang Dynasty between 1700 and
1500 BCE - see, for instance the famous Sanxingdui
Bronzes (1200 BCE). Meantime the US National Gallery of Art, Washington
DC., defines the Bronze Age in China as spanning the period c.2000-770
Note: For a comparison, see: Korean
Art (c.3,000 BCE onwards.)
Described in ancient historical chronicles,
the Xia Dynasty was China's first dynasty. For more, see: Xia
Dynasty Culture (2100-1700).
Later arts and culture of China are traditionally
divided, as follows:
- Zhou Dynasty
art (1050-221 BCE)
- Qin Dynasty art (221-206 BCE)
- Han Dynasty art (206 BCE - 220 CE)
- Arts of the Six Dynasties Period (220-589
- Sui Dynasty art (589-618)
- Tang Dynasty art (618-906)
- Song Dynasty art (960-1279)
- Yuan Dynasty art (1271-1368)
- Ming Dynasty art (1368-1644)
- Qing Dynasty art (1644-1911)